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EURASIA: A POOR STUDENT'S TREK THROUGH EUROPE AND ASIA
By M.G. Edwards This is an excerpt from the upcoming travel novel “Eurasia: A Poor Student's Trek through Europe and Asia.” chronicling my travel abroad in 1994 as a college student. The six-month journey took me to 19 countries in Europe, the Russian Federation, and the People’s Republic of China. Chapter 2 - Adventures in Frankfurt I landed at Frankfurt International Airport (Flughafen) at about 3 a.m. local time. The time difference messed up my internal clock. Even though I arrived at the wee hours of the morning, my head thought it was noontime, and I was wide awake. I knew that I would be worn out long before the end of the day and that inevitably drowsiness would set in sometime after noon. I needed to conserve my strength for the long day ahead and straighten out my days and nights as soon as possible. I was on a new continent and needed to get used to it. Far from extraordinary, Frankfurt at first glance did not look much different than what I left behind in the America. The aircraft landed smoothly and taxied from the runway and to a stop on the tarmac far from the terminal building. Except for the German phrases on billboards and runway markings, Frankfurt's airport seemed like any other transit behemoth. I bid goodbye to my seatmates, disembarked from the plane, walked down the airstair, and hopped on to a shuttle bus that took me for a ride to the main terminal. It dumped me off at an entrance, and I went inside without fanfare. I followed the crowd to German Immigration and Customs and waited my turn to flash my passport at an Immigration official. He waved me on without a word. Although I didn’t need a visa to enter Germany, I was surprised that he did not make me fill out an entry form. Incredibly, I had more trouble entering Canada, where the Canucks bogged me down with declaration forms and confiscated an apple that I brought from home. (Never mind that the apple grew up in shadow of the Canadian border – disallowed). Passing through German Customs without so much as a cursory baggage check, I made my way to the baggage claim and waited more than 45 minutes for my belongings. There was something to be said about being held up by border control while waiting for the bags to arrive. At the baggage claim, I met a nice Hungarian lady waiting for her luggage named Rosa, who spoke little German and even less English. I enjoyed talking with her in a mixture of German and hand gestures. The time passed quickly while chatted. Finally, my checked-in baggage spilled on to the conveyer belt and passed twice around the baggage carousel until I could collect them. I had two oversized suitcases, a large duffle bag, and a carry-on bag that must have weighed more than 100 pounds in total. While I should have grabbed an airport luggage cart, I opted instead to use my own luggage carrier that I had -1-
© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. bought for my trip. I piled the stack of baggage on it. The frail metal frame built to accommodate far lighter bags groaned under their weight. I pulled my poor luggage carrier aside and recounted my plan to travel from Frankfurt to Rosenheim, Germany, a city outside Munich where I would spend the night with a friend. I planned to leave by subway from the airport to the Hauptbahnhof, Frankfurt's main train station. I would leave my luggage in a locker at the station and spend the rest of the day exploring the city before taking an evening train to Munich, where I would connect with another train bound for Rosenheim. With this plan in mind, I set off with my overloaded baggage cart and headed for an elevator to the subway. My trip took a turn for the worse when my fragile luggage carrier broke as I tried to pull it into the elevator, spilling my bags on the floor. Embarrassed, I abandoned the elevator to reclaim my luggage. I groaned and pulled them out of the elevator's path. I squatted next to the pile that had once been my carefully crafted plan and set my most important possessions--my passport, Europass train ticket, traveler’s checks, and plane ticket--on the floor as I stressed out over what to do. In my distress, I forgot that I brought along a fanny pack to secure my valuables. Suddenly, I had to figure out how to transport two suitcases, a duffle bag and shoulder bag -- virtually my entire life -- hundreds of kilometers to Austria. The luggage carrier lay at my feet in a twisted heap. I wished I had listened to sage advice to travel light, but I disregarded it because I thought I needed to over pack to survive six months on the road. I realized that I could have done without so much stuff. I thought about using an airport baggage cart, but it would have only gotten me as far as the airport subway station. "May I help you?" a voice asked me. I looked up and saw a man standing next to me. He was casually dressed in a t-shirt and jeans with a small shoulder bag. I immediately answered, "Sure, thanks." "My name is Francisco. I'm from Venezuela but live here in Frankfurt," the man said, extending his hand. I shook it and introduced myself. "Nice to meet you. Thanks for your help." Unsure whether he was trustworthy, I scooped up my papers and money and stashed them in my fanny pack. Francisco helped drag my suitcases to a money exchange office, where I changed U.S. dollars into Deutschmark (DM), Germany's currency before the country adopted the euro in 1998. Francisco waited patiently for me. I started to gather my belongings to drag alone to the subway, and he said, "Here, I'm going to that way. I'll give you a hand." I appreciated the help and agreed, giving him a suitcase to carry. We took the elevator down to the subway level of the airport. I bought an all-day pass for the Frankfurt subway at a kiosk. Again, Francisco waited for me. We took the train to the Hauptbahnhof. As the train barreled toward the city, the nondescript suburbs passing by in a drab blur, my helpful companion explained that he grew up in Venezuela but came to Frankfurt to study architecture and never left. He spoke excellent English with a Spanish-laced accent. When I asked him how he learned the language, he responded that he needed it to communicate with colleagues and clients around the world.
© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved.
I started to warm up to Francisco but was still on guard for suspicious activity. Something gnawed at me about him. Perhaps it was that he was willing to go beyond the call of duty to help a stranger for seemingly nothing in return. I heard stories of tourists who were conned and fell victim to scams -- or worse. Nevertheless, I figured that I was relatively safe accompanying him in a high-traffic area of a low-crime city. His story seemed credible enough. He explained that he had dropped someone off at the airport and was on his way home. He needed to take a train home from the Hauptbahnhof and did not mind going with me. When we disembarked from the subway at the main train station, Francisco happened to meet his friend Thomas, a German man with unkempt blond hair dressed in fatigues. This I thought odd. Thomas had a look in his eye that told me he was a streetwise sort. The fatigues made him look as if he was ready for jungle warfare, strange attire for a large European city. I could not help but be suspicious of my new acquaintances. I wanted to trust these would-be Good Samaritans, but I could not get past the nagging feeling that I was being set up. Francisco had one of my suitcases, so I had to find a way to get it back and say goodbye before they separated me from my luggage – or worse. I asked them where I could find the lockers in the train station, hinting that I would go alone. My apprehension turned to distrust when Thomas said, "You have to be careful here, man. The train station is in a bad area of town where a lot of people get robbed. We can help you out.” Alarm bells went off in my head. I needed to get my belongings and bid them adios as carefully as I could, fast.
© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. Thomas and Francisco waited for me to respond to their offer to help carry my bags. I was unsure of their intentions and wondered how I could bid adieu without creating a scene. I suspected that they had ulterior motives, perhaps to relieve me of my wallet or other belongings, but I couldn't dismiss the possibility that they genuinely wanted to help. What a mess I'd gotten myself into just hours after arriving in Europe! I hoped my brief stay in Frankfurt would not devolve further into a comedy or tragedy. "Really, guys, I can take it from here,” I told them. “I really appreciate your help. If there's anything I can ever do to thank you…" Francisco held up his hand without a hint of malice and stopped me in mid-sentence. "Say no more, my friend. We're happy to help." Thomas nodded, smiling. It dawned on me that the two were merely being helpful. I pursed my lips and chastised myself for being too mistrustful. Francisco held out his hand and shook mine. He said, "We wish you all the best with your travels, Michael. Take care of yourself. See you later." "Thank you very much," I said, feeling a bit sheepish. "'Bye…I mean, auf Wiedersehen." "Bye, Michael," Francisco and Thomas said. They waved and disappeared from my life. I realized then that meeting strangers was one of the more fulfilling aspects of traveling abroad and that it was best not to assume the worst in a person at first meeting. Had it not been for their assistance, I might never have been able to square away my belongings. Instead, I might have spent time in a police station reporting some lost or stolen items. Francisco and Thomas were the greeters in Frankfurt that I expected all along.
I gathered my two suitcases, duffel bag, and shoulder bag and shoved the pile toward the locker room at the opposite end of the terminal. I moved them in stages, thinking each time I went back for an orphaned bag that I had a long trip ahead of me to Graz, Austria. I rented the largest locker available and stuffed the three large pieces into it and kept my shoulder bag to use as my daypack. I still carried my travel documents and wallet in my fanny pack, an accessory that I did not realize at the time was a great target for thieves who would rather have stolen small valuables than unwieldy suitcases. Unfettered, I was all set to spend the rest of the day touring Frankfurt, but I wasn't in the mood to see it. My ordeal from the airport to the train station soured my disposition. I still had more than three hours before my scheduled departure and did not want to linger -4-
© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. at the station, so I headed to the city center for my first taste of Europe. I was not impressed. Despite being a major European city and the financial hub of one of the world’s largest economies, Frankfurt was a forgettable urban metropolis with a dearth of landmarks. Allied bombing during World War II destroyed the city, and most rebuilt modern architecture was rather bland. Die Römer, Frankfurt's city hall, and the Opernhaus (opera house), were beautiful but nondescript gems hidden amid the high rises. Apart from street signs and billboards written in German, I saw few signs of Germanic influence.
I missed home, my family and my girlfriend. I had no way to contact them with nary a phone card or a cell phone, which would not become an indispensable, disposable travel item for another decade. I told my family that I would contact them in a few days after I arrived in Graz and had no idea what I would have done if I got into trouble. With no travel insurance and on a limited budget, I needed to travel with care. I sought comfort in the refuge of an American fast-food chain and ordered a hamburger, a dish that ironically originated in Germany but was as far from German cuisine as I could imagine. The burger tasted no better than it had in the United States, and while I thought it was a cheaper option than eating at a local restaurant, the meal cost more than I had budgeted. Leaving the restaurant, I went outside into the cold February afternoon and inadvertently stepped into some wet dog excrement waiting for me on Römerstraße (Römer Street). I rolled my eyes and growled with clenched teeth, "Crap, can anything else go wrong today?" Scraping the feces from the bottom of my shoe with some tissue, I regretted my words for fear of jinxing myself. The day was far from over; there was still plenty of time for more things to go wrong. Jetlagged, frustrated, and dissatisfied by the bad meal that started to turn in my stomach, I opted to head back to the train station to wait for my departure. The last thing I wanted to do was miss my connection and find myself stranded in Frankfurt. So much misfortune had befallen me in Frankfurt that I was sure that fate would intervene again. As I sat in a subway car hurling back to the train station, staring out the window at the fuzzy emergency lights passing by me in the dark tunnel, I moped and hoped that the situation would get better. To be continued… -5-
© 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved.
M.G. Edwards is a writer of books and stories in the mystery, thriller and science fictionfantasy genres. He also writes travel adventures. He recently published a collection of short stories called Real Dreams: Thirty Years of Short Stories available as an ebook and in print on Amazon.com. His upcoming travel novel, Kilimanjaro: One Man’s Quest to Go Over the Hill, will be available in March 2012. He lives in Bangkok, Thailand with his wife Jing and son Alex. For more books or stories by M.G. Edwards, visit his web site at www.mgedwards.com or his blog, World Adventurers. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook, or @m_g_edwards on Twitter. © 2012 Brilliance Press. All rights reserved. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted without the written consent of the author.
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